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The Curious Cynic

By Madeline Bodin

Cornelia Dean, currently on leave as editor of The New York Times’ science section, said she was concerned that her presentation, “Political Science: Science narratives for an election year” was too bleak.

She gave example after example of the pitfalls that await even the elite of science journalists. That, it’s true, may not inspire anyone to run out and beg for a science beat. But as someone who has covered science, I can tell you her examples rang true. I’ll use many of the tips she gave in my next article.

But for me, the overarching “tip” was this: In speaking about science and science journalism, Dean shows a remarkable mixture of cynicism and wonder.

She recalled a colleague who called some breakthroughs in microbiology “new hope for the dead.”

Dean once pitched a story on a fountain of antimatter in space for the front page of The New York Times with the argument that it was just really cool. Sometimes, she said, in science journalism, the answer to the question, “What is the implication of this?” is just that. (“Because it is really cool.”)

That balance of cynicism and wonder in myself is something I’ll be thinking about the next time I sit down to write a science story.

Madeline Bodin is a freelance science writer.

Posted in mistakes in reporting, science, sessions.Science Narratives for an Election Year, speakers.Cornelia Dean on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink